“There Are No Repetitions” (excerpt) Subtle Sound — Maurine Stuart
Because I consider myself an artist, I tend to think in terms of poetry and music, but above all, it is the art of our own life that we are engaged in. The greatness of a poem or a painting is not that it portrays a certain scene or experience, but that it shows the artist's vision of his or her own meeting with reality. Hence each thing, each time, is fresh and new. It is never the same place. There are no repetitions. It is not the head or the hand that paints the picture or performs the sonata. One of my teachers gave me a wonderful koan: "Play the piano without using your hands." When we are empty and free, then the brush or the notes move by themselves. This is the source, whether or not we call it Zen, that we are in touch with. Is it done by heaven, or is it our doing? Our doing is heaven's. Our movements are heaven's. If the artist interferes, or if we as artists of our lives interfere with this source through some self-conscious preoccupation, what happens? What is to be expressed gets lost, becomes hard, constrained; there is no true expression. When mind and heart are open, empty; when there is no selfish motivation; then all one's actions are one with heaven. The spirit flows freely, and we have a heavenly dance...
...We speak of the wonders of nature. Nature is full of myo (wondrous action) . Nature is always showing this unfathomable, absolutely inexhaustible myo (wondrous action), and there are many wonderful poets (Zen) who express this to us… Here are two examples:
penetrates the rocks cicadas chirp
The temple bell dies away
but the fragrance of flowers resounds—
Such elegance! By the way, this word, elegance, is also used by physicists to describe their discoveries. Basho has given us a glimpse of the source. To come to such elegance, to come to such feeling, doesn't happen by taking some pill, or some magic potion, but through strong discipline. This is not only true of Zen practitioners, but of all great artists. How many times did Beethoven write, rewrite, tear up, sort out all the things that came to his mind, day by day, week by week, month by month, until he finally distilled everything down to the wonderful sound we hear at this point! How many times do artists draw, draw again, over and over again, perfecting their technique so that they may work freely and directly from this source. We can speak very easily about how we should be free, how we should empty our minds, how we should open our hearts, but to do this, we need strong practice. As musicians we practice hour after hour perfecting a phrase so that we may have some freedom of expression when it comes time to give it to someone else…
...We must be completely present with whatever we are doing—so completely present that there is no separation between it and us. Sitting on the cushion is relatively easy. To take it into everyday life, to be completely mindful of what we are doing, this is more difficult—and essential. We must make our base very strong, like the Daruma doll (weighted at the bottom in a way that it will always return to an upright position)—no matter how many times he's knocked down, he pops right up again. We are doing mindfulness practice to nourish this fundamental source of our being.
We have this source within us, but we must do our practice over, and over, and over; sit over and over, do whatever tasks we are engaged in over and over. Yet nothing is repeated. It's hard to keep wide awake, to keep vividly present in the midst of endless repetition. But look at this! Taste this! We may have drunk a million cups of tea, but we have never tasted this one before.
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